|the animal research program of the University of California at Berkeley was being rocked by internal strife and by USDA and media reports of gross negligence and animal abuse. |
Dr. Bruce Feldman, a campus veterinarian, had resigned out of frustration with the administration's unwillingness to allow him to enforce even the most basic tenets of the federal Animal Welfare Act. Dr. Maxwell Redfearn, another campus veterinarian, was under attack by the administration for refusing to sign required USDA documents that would allow the campus to continue to receive federal research funding. USDA inspectors were reporting violations of the Animal Welfare Act, but their superiors in Washington were not taking action to remedy the situation. Eventually, the deficiencies in animal care were publicized by the media.
In early 1983, veterinarian Elliot Katz, a recent transplant to the Bay Area, was contacted by an animal-advocacy organization seeking his help to rectify purportedly abusive and scandalous conditions on the UC Berkeley campus. Unsure as to whether the abuses were blown out of proportion, Dr. Katz set up meetings with Dr. Redfern and Dr. Feldman.
The reality was worse than he had imagined. It was a veterinarian's nightmare. Animals living in grossly overcrowded and filthy facilities were suffering and dying by the hundreds from heatstroke, complications following surgery, gangrene, bacterial meningoencephalitis and viral epidemics. Campus veterinarians were unable to perform their jobs, and in some instances, were even locked out of laboratories where animals in need were sick and dying.
Determined to improve conditions for the animals and the veterinarians at the university, Dr. Katz brought together a group of concerned citizens whose sole intent was to bring legal action against the USDA and the university. The group, initially called Californians for Responsible Research, filed a law suit against the USDA which forced the agency to issue a cease and desist order against UC Berkeley.
The university was ultimately fined $12,000 for violating the Animal Welfare Act. Californians for Responsible Research, later to become In Defense of Animals, succeeded in bringing some semblance of responsibility to the animal research department at UC Berkeley.
Unfortunately, the system did not change without attempting to send a message to anyone who might challenge it in the future. Dr. Redfearn, through a series of punitive actions by the university, was ultimately forced out of his job, but not before his courage and integrity led to an improvement for the animals in his laboratories.
During the past 23 years, under Dr. Katz' direction, In Defense of Animals has expanded its mission and has grown to be one of the nation's foremost animal advocacy organizations, with 80,000 members, dedicated to ending institutionalized abuse of animals by defending their rights, welfare and habitat.
The group's many accomplishments include: saving hundreds of dogs and cats by organizing rescue operations following the Oakland/Berkeley firestorm, liberating 40 dolphins held captive off the coast of Japan, rescuing 180 beagles scheduled for death in the dissection labs of the UC Davis veterinary school, canceling cocaine addiction research on monkeys at New York University and the bone-breaking experiments on retired racing greyhounds by the US Army.
IDA's efforts, at various times, have been detailed on the McNeil-Lehrer Report, Nightline, Eye to Eye with Connie Chung and CNN News.
(written by Dr. Sheri Speede for the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association's "Veterinary Viewpoint")